For a number of years I've been keeping a Grateful Dead notebook. Eventually, I began writing impressions and capsule reviews of shows I have in my collection. I've adopted the style Dead archivist Dick Latvala used for the sake of organization, but also as a small tribute to the man. This blog will be an online version of that notebook. Feel free to leave comments or to email me. I want this space to be an open forum for all Deadheads.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
1991-03-31 - Greensboro Coliseum
Venue: Greensboro Coliseum - Greensboro, NC
Tape History: SBD (Unknown AUD, download here)
Release History: None ("Samson & Delilah" and "Eyes Of The World" were included as filler on Dick's Picks 17)
Half-Step, Wang Dang Doodle, Friend Of The Devil, Queen Jane Approximately, West L.A. Fadeaway, Cassidy, Might As Well
Samson & Delilah, Eyes Of The World -> Playin' In The Band -> Drums -> Space -> The Wheel, Around & Around -> Johnny B. Goode, E: Knockin' On Heaven's Door
07-26-2011: For the longest time I was a pre-07-23-1990 snob. To Deadheads, the meaning is pretty clear: Anything after Brent died I wouldn't even bother with. It took some time and a lot of listening to move away from my prejudice and give it an honest shot. This first show in an exciting two-day run in Greensboro was my first exposure to post-Brent Dead. It took a while to warm up to the different sound and band dynamics, but there is a lot of good, and sometimes great, to be found here, especially the interactions between Bruce Hornsby on grand piano and Jerry.
There are a few vocal flubs by Jerry throughout the show, the first of which is in "Half-Step." Since nobody goes to a Grateful Dead show to hear vocals, it helps that the solo sections are good and so marks a solid way to begin the set. Grand piano has a different sound that seems to bring out energy and creativity from Jerry. For me, the best '90s recordings and shows are with Hornsby. The post-coda section has Vince Welnick on keys piling a thick synth to the band's sound. I don't think it fits very well. I am not a Welnick fan, but I am also not a hater. I think it best to approach his playing as occurring "outside" the rest of the group's; not exactly interacting with or borne of the rest of the band's dynamic. (I.e., the synth trombone in "Wang Dang Doodle," although it replicates the guitars' melodic line, simply does not fit. See also: synth organ solo in "FOTD.") Excluding the wicked groove in "Fadeaway" and a spirited "Cassidy," the rest of the first set doesn't have many great moments. It is about as average a first set you could find. "Might As Well" ends the set with strong energy and a playful vibe, giving us hope that the second frame would pick up and take flight.
Seeing that this was Easter Sunday, their opening with "Samson" is a excellent choice. Luckily, it seems like the audio levels have changed at this point in the show. Vince is less audible and Bob is turned a little down, while Jerry is turned up. You can hear the difference in "Samson," Jerry, full of joy and movement, takes turns through the verses without having to do aural battle with other instruments for space. It appears to have made an impact on Jerry since the next tune he chose was "Eyes," and what a beautiful one it is. The opening jam lasts for several minutes with Jerry going through the changes, as Bob comps on the right side, cleverly hinting at the chords and phrases. (Phil is brilliant in this tune and throughout the second set.) This is almost 23 minutes of heavenly playing by everybody in the band, a sure highlight of latter-day Dead, and in the argument for best post-Brent "Eyes" (06-17, to open the show, is wonderful too.) Listen to how Jerry and Bruce play off each other's ideas, crafting multiple lines in and out of their improvisations, never quite leaving the classic "Eyes" melody behind, but creating variations on melodic and harmonic elements. And this is all before Bruce or Vince even take a turn. You know Jerry's feeling it when he takes another turn himself instead of going into the next verse.
You can also tell when the whole band is feeling it when they move from a 23-minute "Eyes" to spiraling, yet unfinished 15-minute "Playin'." The "Dark Star" teases after the long main jam in "Playin'" must have had Deadheads freaking out. All a tease though, for no dark star would crash that night. They'd have to wait all of one day, for a lovely version the following night, April Fool's Day. They'd also have to wait until the next show for this "Playin'" to conclude.
Ending the set with two Chuck Berry rockers back-to-back is unexpected, especially given the way the previous song flowed and the natural shape the set was taking. I would have liked perhaps a "Wharf Rat" after "The Wheel" and then "Johnny B. Goode," for example. Fittingly, they chose to encore on Easter Sunday with "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," a shimmering take on the melancholy Bob Dylan tune. Overall, a good show, though not great. The first set is merely average and the great high points to begin the second set are met with questionable choices afterward. Still, a worthy component to your Dead collection, and as good a place as any to start with post-Brent shows.
Playin' In The Band